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Conditioned Crawlspaces

Improving the energy-efficiency of your home

Conditioned Crawlspaces

During the summer, the Outer Banks are filled with sunshine and family fun.  But it’s also the season we crank up the air conditioning and our utility bills skyrocket. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects warmer temperatures this summer and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts an increased use of electricity for air conditioning.  So what’s a vacation homeowner to do?

The Coastal Cottage Company recommends researching conditioned, unvented crawlspaces as a option for improving energy efficiency. 

Despite the popularity of vented crawlspaces, many building professionals recognize that a conditioned, unvented crawlspace is the best option for homes in particularly warm and humid climates.  A conditioned crawlspace is constructed and insulated so that it is part of the conditioned space of the house.  

Conditioned Crawlspace
Image courtesy of Environmental Protection Agency

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the Outer Banks’ summer air can increase moisture in crawlspaces.  Given the region’s high humidity, that moisture may not dry out and could cause condensation on cooler crawlspace surfaces such as floor joints, foundation walls, and air-conditioning ducts.  According to Peak Energy, this can lead to mold growth and dry rot.

Conditioned Crawlspace
In 2002, Advanced Energy studied a group of 12 houses in North Carolina. The 8 homes that had unvented crawl spaces had relative humidity that stayed less than 60% all summer.

According to the Building Science Corporation, benefits of conditioned crawlspaces include:

  • More efficient cooling and, thus, lower energy costs.
  • Decreased condensation and, thus, lower likelihood of mold growth.
  • Improved structural integrity due to less moisture.
  • Lower maintenance.

So when planning your Outer Banks vacation home, consider chatting with the Coastal Cottage Company about a conditioned crawlspace!

Blog by Jessica T. Smith

coastal foundations

Coastal Foundations

Why we use piling foundations along the Outer Banks of NC. 

coastal-piling-builder-steel-foundationIf you have ever visited or lived on the Outer Banks, you may have been wondering why the homes are built on pilings or “stilts”. You’re not alone, you might be surprised how often this question comes up.

Before moving to the Outer Banks, my wife made me promise that we wouldn’t live in a house on “stilts”.  She wanted to live in a “normal” looking house like the one she had grown up in.  Sure, this seems like a reasonable request, but the fact is there are very few homes on the Outer Banks that have traditional masonry foundations. The majority of the homes on the Outer Banks are built on “stilts” or piling foundations.

So why are they built on piling foundation’s you ask? Well most of the reasoning revolves around the Outer Banks topography and flooding. Wood piles are the most economical way to elevate a house above potentially high flood waters.  Living in an area with relatively flat topography surrounded by water the risk of flooding is always high.  Relatively minor sustained winds can push ocean and sound levels onto normally dry areas.  Higher winds can magnify and compound the damage caused by raised water levels.  Elevating homes above these waters can reduce damage and ultimately save homes that would otherwise be destroyed. 

Piling foundations also provide a deeper, more secure foundation than conventional masonry foundations. Typical foundations like masonry and concrete tend to be shallower.  As a result, they are more susceptible to shifting sands, erosion and undermining. Pilings, on the other hand, are driven deep beneath the sub-grade and are not as affected by surface erosion by wind or flood waters.

How do pilings support a house? Foundation piles support homes in two ways.  First, piles support the house load through “skin friction”. Skin friction is the resistance of the soil, typically sand in our area, along the sides of the pile to downward pressure.  And secondly, through the piles “end bearing”. The end bearing is the ability of the pile to resistance downward pressure at the “tip” or bottom of the pile. The combination of skin friction and end bearing provide substantial bearing capacities capable of supporting the unique homes on the Outer Banks.

Do you need to build on a pile foundation? This depends on the property location and flood zone. The minimum elevation for a home may vary based on design flood levels and lot location typically designated by FEMA. A qualified engineer or builder can help you decide what foundation type is best for your lot, home and the flood requirements.

coastal-foundations-outer-banks-pilingsIn conclusion, homes on the Outer Banks vary widely in terms of construction type and appearance.  Many architects and engineers over the years have come up with unique ways to minimize the “stilt look” while maintaining the benefits of pile supported foundation (as my wife required ours to be). Piles also provide a relatively economical way for home owners to achieve extraordinary views including spectacular sunrises and sunsets. So the next time you are visiting the Outer Banks and someone says “I wonder why all the homes are built on those stilts…”, you will have the answer.  

 -blog provided by: Barrett Crook – Kitty Hawk Engineering, PLLC  www.kittyhawkengineering.com


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